Hannah Rainey holds a special honor in the history of music. In March 2014, she became the first female classical guitarist to ever play a solo recital on the University of Missouri campus. Today, however, the music Hannah plays is a far cry from Bach or Piazzolla.

“I used to read music and try to play pretty, and I know I’m creating really, kind of nasty sounds almost that you can’t achieve on the classical guitar,” she says of her current project Shady Bug. “I had to unlearn my classical skills for this band. I had to ignore all the technique that I learned. I really had to think about guitar in a whole new way.”

The music of Shady Bug—a four-piece indie rock quartet featuring Hannah on guitar and vocals—isn’t nasty, per se. The band plays a delicate mixture of precious, melodious pop and hard-edged electric clatter. A simple love song with saccharine lyrics and an even sweeter vocal performance suddenly erupts into a groundswell of fuzz-laden energy from four young musicians who sound—and look—like they’re having fun. They didn’t start out with that intention, though. They started, in fact, with very little predetermined.

Shady Bug officially formed in December 2016. But Hannah’s journey from classicist to rocker began much earlier. After earning her bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance from Mizzou and moving back to her native St. Louis in 2015, Hannah continued to perform music with her identical twin, Delia.

The duo, known as Dubb Nubb, played a pastiche of Americana and folk music with a focus on the uncanny vocal harmonies of the siblings. Some might call it “blood harmony,” a phrase that country music historian and podcaster Tyler Mahan Coe defines as “a term to describe how freakishly well some close family members are able to sing with each other, especially when they were born around the same time.” But after almost 10 years of performing together, Hannah began experimenting with the electric guitar and started writing songs in a new way. That’s when she and drummer Aaron O’Neill decided to start a band with Hannah’s new songs as the base.

Before long, the two were jamming with guitarist Tom Krenning and the band’s former bassist Todd Anderson. Three weeks later, they performed their first show at CBGB on Grand Boulevard in St. Louis.
“There was a lot of pressure, but it was good pressure,” Hannah says. “Everyone from the community came out and were really supportive. It was awesome.”

Following that first show, the band began to find its sound, which is marked by a distinct juxtaposition of thunderous sounds and comparatively docile melodies. Most important to Hannah, though, is that this is a sound band members found together.

“Everything we do is very collaborative,” she says. “It wasn’t our intention to sound like one specific [thing]. We just realized it was really effective to do the massive sound with the more subtle sound.”
It’s a marked departure from Hannah’s harmonies with Delia. The sisters still get together to perform, but Dubb Nubb went on hiatus last fall when Delia left St. Louis to earn a Master of Fine Arts at Columbia College Chicago.

Since honing its personal style, Shady Bug has been on an upward trajectory. The band released its debut album, tbh idk (millennial slang for “to be honest, I don’t know”) in 2017. Bassist Chris Chartrand joined the band in 2018, and Shady Bug signed with Brooklyn-based label Exploding in Sound Records that same year.

“It’s really exciting because we’re all huge EIS fans,” Hannah says. “When he [label founder Dan Goldin] asked us to send us our demos, we were freaking out.”

After signing to the label, Exploding in Sound released Shady Bug’s sophomore album, Lemon Lime, last March. Enjoying a wider release than anything the band has had before, the set of nine songs continues what the musicians began when they first played together in 2016: creating a sound that’s 100 percent Shady Bug.

Now after releasing two albums and touring the country, the “loud-quiet-loud” dynamic has become a trademark of the band. In fact, Hannah says, Shady Bug can’t steer away from the sound. But if you listen between the flashes of sonic pandemonium and jangling indie pop, you can hear snippets of Hannah’s entire life. There’s a little bit of twangy yodel and, perhaps, even a hint of baroque composition. You just have to listen.